All About Organic

When we talk about healthy eating, the term “organic” often comes up in conversation. There can be some confusion about what this term actually means and if there are ways to include organic foods in your meal plan without exhausting your food budget.

First of all, what is “organic”?

Most of us think of produce when we hear the word “organic”, but the term can apply to other foods as well. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates label terms and processing standards for organic products. Organic plant foods can only be produced with certain pesticides and fertilizers made without synthetic ingredients. There are also rules against bioengineering and ionizing radiation. Plus, a government-approved certifier must inspect the farm to ensure all standards are being met.

There are three levels of organic claims for food:

1.     100% Organic: Products that are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.

2.     Organic: Products in which at least 95% of its ingredients are organic qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.

3.     Made with Organic Ingredients: These are food products in which at least 70% of ingredients are certified organic. The USDA organic seal cannot be used but "made with organic ingredients" may appear on its packaging.

Is “organic” food more nutritious?

The term “organic” is a statement of processing. It is not a health claim. Current research shows that there is little difference in the nutrient content of organic foods versus conventionally grown foods. For example, an organic apple provides a similar amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber as a conventionally grown apple. The production process is what separates organic foods from others.

Are organic foods always more expensive?

For most people, one of the major barriers to buying organic is cost. Due to stringent processing and regulation standards, organic food is traditionally more expensive. However, as more farmers are becoming certified organic, organic foods are becoming more available and more affordable as well. You can also save money by avoiding food waste. Organic foods tend to spoil faster, so keep produce in the refrigerator to delay the ripening process and extend the shelf life.